Remembering Father Herman

18 May 2018 | People

Father Herman Klein-Hitpass (OMI) passed away on 24 April after a prolonged sickbed in Windhoek.

Ambassador Wilfried I Emvula paid tribute to the man known to many as Father Herman.

“A humble, sophisticated, intelligent leader of outstanding character arrived in Walvis Bay during the late 70s to lead the Catholic church. It was however not by humble choice, but forced by circumstances of that time as those were the years when political and church leaders were victimised by the notorious apartheid regime,”said Emvula.

Father Klein-Hitpass used to serve and lead the Catholic church in Tsumeb and the surrounding areas where he also assisted communities against human rights violations, those evicted from the farms as well as those who were dismissed unfairly.

“It was due to his service that he found himself on the wrong side of the law. When the regime had enough of him, as in the case of other Catholic priests who were German, they served him a banning order (deportation) to leave the country. After some consultations with his superiors, he took a decision to put the regime at test by deciding to move to Walvis Bay which was then regarded as part of South Africa.”

This decision was taken to see if they will further victimise Father Herman by serving another banning order which could have been understood to mean that indeed Walvis Bay was not part of South Africa.

The regime of that time seemed to have understood the logic and left Father Herman alone. They however kept him under house arrest for the rest of the time, warning him not to go to Swakop or any part of Namibia (South West Africa) without the knowledge and permission of the security service.

Father Hermann became part of the oppressed members of the community and continued his work as a Good Shepherd, as by the name of the Catholic congregation in Kuisebmond. He continued his work unhindered although he was closely watched, followed at a distance in many cases as he moved around in the community especially when it came to Kuisebmond and Narraville.

He continued to raise his voice against human right violations and the victimisation of workers and the oppressed. He used to organise legal aid through the CCN and the Catholic church for the vulnerable persons who otherwise could not afford legal services.

“We remember the case of Leonard Sheehama who was accused of bombing the Atlantic Butchery and the Walvis Bay Post Office, the arrest of students from the Kuisebmund Secondary School, the case of a young man who was grilled over a hot plate by the then security police during interrogation and many such incidents.”

He was harassed on numerous occasions and warned by the security police for housing destitute persons for a night in his house in town when they, according to the police, didn't belong there.

“Father Herman will be remembered for having fought for the rights of the oppressed, both in minority and majority groups. He fought against the Contract Labour system and the unfair wages of the fishermen.”

On one occasion he virtually forced the Walvis Bay/Kuisebmond Municipality to build five to six houses for a Topnaar Community that used to live at the dump site which took hard negotiations with the authorities.

“And he got it right. The houses were build when most thought it was not going to happen,” said Emvula.

“I vividly remember when at times I had to ferry letters to Swakop for confidential matters that needed to reach the church leadership in Windhoek, when we climb up into the church tower in Kuisebmund to take photos when the police were victimising demonstrating Swapo members and students of the High School in Kuisebmond for the purpose of evidence and to send it to the papers.”

One interesting case that also comes to mind is when the issue of illegal exploitation of natural resources was highly reported and the question as to where our uranium was being exported to.

“We used to track and trace the movement of containers leaving Rössing Uranium by night being shipped from Walvis Bay to Durban, back to Cape Town before it left for some far destinations. It was interesting to note the secrecy around it and how the process was administered over nights, moving containers from ports around South Africa before it ultimately left on the high seas.”

In 1989 when Emvula was on the verge of being dismissed as headmaster of Duinesig Primary, Judge Dave Smuts who was then founder of the Legal Assistance Center, approached him to open the Walvis Bay Advice Office as paralegal and director.

“Father Herman allowed us to open the office at the garage on the premises of the Catholic church in Kuisebmond. That was the time when security was sharpened around Walvis Bay. People were not allowed to go over the Swakop bridge without an ID when entering or leaving Walvis Bay. Many were harassed, assaulted and even beaten up. We then used to organise for legal assistance, and get lawyers from Windhoek. The office used to benefit a lot from the advice Father Herman provided.”

According to Emvula Father Herman was a man of truth, fearlessness and fairness, and was humble and sophisticated. He feared for no regime of that time. He served his communities with grace.

“It is regrettable that we lost him in the condition he was but still humble. A man of few words but very philosophical. He was well informed through a network of friends in all communities. When one met Father Herman early morning, he could tell what happened in each of the three sections of Walvis Bay overnight. May his soul rest in eternal peace. We will remember him for the good deeds of bravery. He has offered safety and comfort to many."

Father Herman was laid to rest at Döbra on 28 April.

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